Since landing the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, rumors have been swirling online about what the Memphis Grizzlies will do with franchise cornerstone, Mike Conley. The Boston Celtics have been a common thread in many of these rumors.
Memphis fans know the rumors of Conley being shopped have been out there since early last season when it was evident the Grizzlies weren’t a contender out West. The move Memphis did make last season was sending franchise center Marc Gasol to Toronto for a package of role players and a future second round pick.
That left Mike Conley as the lone remaining member of the locally coined “Core Four” that was a staple in the Western Conference playoffs for seven years straight. While still the youngest member of that core, fans and media members alike still expect Conley to be traded sometime this summer or at the very least before the 2020 trade deadline next February.
A rumor that had been out there for a few weeks among the fanbase has recently picked up steam with the national media: Mike Conley to the Boston Celtics. Most notably, Bill Simmons has mentioned this several times on his podcast, The Bill Simmons Podcast, and has workshopped a few potential trade packages while dreaming of an Al Horford-Mike Conley pick-and-roll.
There have since been several articles, including one from Beale Street Bears site expert Chris Kern, written about this possibility. The most common package has included Gordon Hayward being sent to Memphis along with some picks in this year’s draft.
I myself have brought this up with friends and was of the belief that this would be a real possibility and a great outcome for Memphis if the right collection of picks were sent to them. Maybe the Grizz would even have an outside chance of getting their own pick back from Boston, which has one final year of protection before being completely unprotected in 2021. I even sat down to write this article with the idea of breaking down what players Memphis could select with the group of picks Boston might send over in the trade.
Then I realized something. The Celtics aren’t going to make this trade with Memphis. At least, not before the draft. And would Memphis even want to make this trade if not given the chance to make its own picks?
As I was laying out the Celtics’ roster, I noticed that if they traded Hayward, they would have alarmingly bad wing depth for next season. Marcus Morris is a free agent and will likely look for a larger payday than what the Celtics will be willing to offer initially. He could be an option later in the free agency period if the Celtics strike out, but will he be willing to wait that long and risk a contract elsewhere?
Jayson Tatum will obviously still be in Boston and I do believe we will see an improvement from him next season, even though a lot of fans have cooled on his lofty expectations from this past summer. Tatum should have a large role next season regardless of what happens, but we know that wing depth is necessary for a long NBA season. After Tatum, the only wings on the roster currently are Jaylen Brown and Semi Ojeleye.
Boston could look to recoup some of this depth by asking for more players from Memphis — players like C.J. Miles or Dillon Brooks, or maybe even an Avery Bradley reunion. This would take some salary cap maneuvering from both teams to make the money match in a trade, but it’s nothing too difficult.
These options are all well and good, but I don’t see Celtics general manager Danny Ainge settling on building his championship contender this way. Ainge has proven over the past few years to prefer taking his chances with the draft than trading those picks for veterans. I know those picks were top five in the draft (Brown/Tatum), but I still think this is more of a philosophy than an aberration.
Ainge likely views these first round picks as ammo for a blockbuster trade before or after the draft, or depth for a team that loses several rotation players to free agency. I do think he is open to trading Hayward, but his money would work too perfectly for a bigger name than Conley and we also don’t know how this Kyrie Irving situation will play out.
It’s almost a waste of time for us to genuinely predict how the next few weeks will go with Kyrie. Beyond normal fan speculation, no one has any idea what he will do, and I don’t think Irving will have made a final decision until the very last moment. We have seen his mood change so quickly this season (which is not a criticism, but a window into how Kyrie will likely make his decision).
Irving’s player option has a deadline of June 29, and that will be the day we find out. There is a chance he opts into his final year, but it would be a shock to everyone. Irving is his own man and has his own checklist of what he wants to prove to the world, and that could include running it back for one more year to try and win a championship with Boston, even if it doesn’t make the most financial sense.
That June 29 deadline looms large for a potential Conley trade, because if Boston has any hopes of retaining Kyrie then it can’t make this trade before then. That would lead us to the scenario of Memphis not being able to make its own selections in the draft, which slightly removes the luster to the trade.
With the Irving question still floating out there, I think Boston’s hesitation will likely be enough for Memphis to move on in the Conley trade market and instead look for teams willing to put together a realistic package before the draft.
The Grizzlies need to be patient in their pursuit of a Conley trade and not become obsessed with handing the keys to Morant right away. In these negotiations, Memphis must rest on the built-in leverage of keeping Conley on the roster for this season, because bottoming out for another lottery pick is a risky strategy. With their pick protected 1-6 in next year’s draft, they could easily send that to Boston after some bad luck on lottery night.